Friday, December 5, 2008

She Reports. We Still Get to Decide.

CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour doesn't like the blogosphere so much:

Sometimes it is incredibly useful, for instance, in closed societies such as Burma. Some of the images, some of the stories that have come out have been by the Internet and by citizen journalists. And that has been indispensable in terms of knowing what is going on when journalists like myself and others cannot get visas to get in there and cannot operate. ... In that regard I think the bloggers or the citizen journalists are very brave and very useful.

I think that in the West sometimes blogging is an excuse for sitting back and just commenting on life as it passes by and putting out your opinions on what is happening. Sometimes those are interesting, but not always.
Uninteresting comments are appearing on the internets. What a shame! If only we weren't legally required to read all of it.

But seriously. I take this as a variation of the notion that web 2.0 is somehow forcing, or at least strongly encouraging, people ever deeper into their respective ideological cocoons. Whereas I don't think the web makes this any easier or more attractive than it has ever been, and there I give away my assumption that it has always been easy and attractive. It has always been easy and attractive for individuals to hew to ideas that strike them as familiar, pleasing, and comfortable -- and going beyond this, to surround themselves with people who share the same predilections and preferences, to exclude "others," always and everywhere defined as people who hew to unfamiliar, displeasing, and uncomfortable ideas. True, "otherness" cleaves along linguistic and racial lines as well, but never far beneath the sound and look of "otherness" lies culture, i.e., ideas, beliefs, customs, and so on, which are either familiar or alien, welcome or repugnant.

I continue to find it baffling that when this process plays out on the web, it is heralded as a novel and disturbing development in human interaction. It just isn't. It's just about the oldest thing going, so fundamental to the human experience as to call for its own mythical origins in the Tower of Babel.

On balance, I would say the web reverses this process by making it so easy -- and so attractive, if it is ever going to be -- to encounter others expressing themselves on their own terms. And, like similar critics, Amanpour does not seem to appreciate that the blogosphere actually does include a great deal of subject matter expertise amid the din of opinion. I should watch CNN or read the Washington Post to get better informed about science than I can by following ScienceBlogs? Please.

But Amanpour seems troubled by a narrower concern:
And the truth of the matter is I do not believe, no matter how sophisticated the delivery platform, I don't think there is a substitute or should there be a substitute for professional journalism, which comes with training, with experience, with credibility, with developing trust based on the accuracy of your record in the field. I think that is an absolute must. That must stay with us so that people have an accurate and objective reference point for their information.
I would agree the web's Babel is not a substitute for professional journalism, nor does any sane person claim it to be. It's actually the rare blog that claims to be breaking news and pursuing investigations in the journalistic sense. But as in the recent and unexceptional case of the New York Times reducing torture to "tactic[s] considered by many legal authorities to be torture," there are severe limits to what we can expect in the way of "accurate and objective reference points" from professional journalists. In the halcyon pre-blogosphere days, sterling insights like that were addressed with letters to editors (likely not to be printed), or, weeks or months after the fact, exposes by starving advocacy organizations like FAIR or widely-ignored writings by the likes of George Seldes, Ben Bagdikian, Noam Chomsky, Jeff Cohen, Norman Solomon, Robert McChesney, or Dean Baker. That state of affairs was not better.

There is another dimension to this. I would not be surprised if working journalists like Amanpour are being told, subtly and not so subtly, that their paid work offers little beyond what the blogosphere provides for free. Surely every media empire in the world is wielding this false claim as a whip against its working journalists, but this does not make it true.

(via EvolutionBlog)

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